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« AK: Begich (D) +2 | Blog Home Page | FL 13, 18: GOP Leads »

Strategy Memo: Economic Politics

Good Monday morning. What a weekend for the University of Mississippi; not only do they host a successful presidential debate, they also stun third-ranked Florida on Saturday. Which one do you think students care most about? Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Congress begins its final week of work before the elections today as both chambers work toward quick passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, a deal on which was reached last night. The House is expected to take up the package today, while the Senate will deal with it as late as Wednesday. President Bush, who addressed the nation on the crisis this morning, meets later today with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko.

-- House and Senate leaders on both sides scramble for the votes it will take to pass the massive $700 billion bailout plan, and passage is looking more likely as key players fall into place, however unwillingly. To Minority Leader John Boehner, the bill is a "crap sandwich," but he'll vote for it anyway, Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes. Crucially, the bill also won backing from chief deputy whip Eric Cantor and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a fiscal hawk who once chaired the budget committee, Jake Tapper adds.

-- Of note, it is voices like Cantor, Ryan and Boehner who matter on the bailout, while those of Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are not as important. That's not a commentary on the effectiveness of the Democratic Congress; it's an intentional strategy Pelosi and Reid are pursuing in order to protect their party ahead of November. Though the bill has critical elements insisted upon by Democrats, the party has made it clear that it's a Bush Administration bill, as the San Francisco Chronicle writes today. The party wants at least half the Republicans in the House to vote for the bill in order to provide real political cover.

-- Neither presidential candidate wants much to do with the package either. Both John McCain and Barack Obama expressed only the most tepid support, McCain suggesting many would "swallow hard" and vote for the bill, the AP's Tom Raum writes. Both candidates claimed some measure of credit for the agreement, and though Congressional leaders said their meeting at the White House eventually helped produce a compromise, it's not clear exactly how much positive influence either candidate really had. Neither is likely to be in Washington for a vote on the bill, Politico reports.

-- Half a week after their historic meeting at the White House and a week after the bailout talks really began, the pledges of keeping politics out of a crisis are long gone. Democrats will take credit for provisions limiting excessive pay for CEOs whose companies are affected and for provisions they say will protect taxpayer money. But the bill at large, they say, is a GOP bill. The move also puts Republicans in an awkward spot; it was fiscal responsibility, or a lack thereof, that cost the GOP a number of seats in 2006. Now, just when members like Ryan, Mike Pence and Tom Coburn were starting to reassert tightwad spending discipline, the party will have to supply hundreds of votes to shell out billions to companies on Wall Street.

-- It's not just in Congress that Democrats are finding ways to take advantage of the poor economic times. On the presidential trail, Obama is using the bailout to hammer McCain for failing to understand the difference, as he puts it, between Wall Street and Main Street. Telling voters in Detroit that McCain had little to do with the final agreement, Obama is claiming his own credit for getting at least some of his "core principles" into the bill, per the Chicago Tribune. But the argument over the bill is part of a larger effort by Obama to label McCain as out of touch (Another aspect of that push: the Obama campaign released a video after last week's meeting in Oxford highlighting the fact that McCain didn't utter the words "middle class" once during the 90 minute debate).

-- Speaking of the debate, it's clear now that, no matter what we think, Americans say Barack Obama won the throwdown in Oxford. A week ago, the race was essentially tied. Now, Barack Obama has a small, but significant, 4.8-point lead, according to the latest RCP General Election Average. That takes into account big moves Obama made especially in the Gallup daily tracking poll and the Hotline/Financial Dynamics poll, where Obama scored big gains over McCain among independent voters.

-- Next Stop Of The Day: Should be "of the week," really. Fewer people tuned in to the mayhem in Mississippi than tuned in to the John Kerry-George W. Bush debates in 2004, but we're betting more will be watching the Joe Biden-Sarah Palin throwdown on Thursday night. With rising concern among conservatives about Palin's ability to compete and Democrats worried that Biden might say something foolish, Thursday is going to keep party regulars on the edge of their seats. The Boston Herald's lede says it all: "One talks too much. The other hasn't talked enough." That's exactly what both sides are worried about.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Denver with a rally, his first trip back to Colorado since he accepted his party's nomination in late August. Tonight, Obama and Biden will sit down with their wives and the hosts of "Entertainment Tonight." McCain and Palin are rallying together again in Columbus, Ohio, and Palin will sit down, again, with CBS's Katie Couric tonight.